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In Google’s Tentacles – Nest!

Evidently, Google found some coins wedged between the seats of the vehicles in its automated fleet. How that much change fell between the cushions is somewhat uncertain (tax avoidance perhaps?) though upon finding this money, in a fit of New Year’s cleaning, Google has decided to start the year off with a big acquisition. Thus Google plunked down $3.2 billion for the maker of Internet-connected home electronics Nest. Which is quite a bit of money to have found in seat cushions when you think about it.

Founded by engineers who had previously worked for Apple, Nest makes thermostats and smoke alarms/carbon monoxide detectors that are notable for several features. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, they have the sleek appearance that one would come to expect from former Apple employees, secondly, these wi-fi connected products, allow users to control the devices via apps, and thirdly, the devices provide “learning” and programmable features so that the thermostat (for example) can adjust the temperature in your absence (with the appropriate app). Having been started in 2010, Nest has not had too much time to grow into a really dominant force in electronics (though it has certainly grown quite a bit), but receiving roughly a billion dollars for each year its been around is very telling about its perceived future value.

This whole story is just the latest chapter in the ongoing serial: Google devours the world (or, to be slightly less hyperbolic: Google devours the competition [or if you prefer a biblical spin: Goliath convinces David to work for him])! Clearly Google thinks of itself as the action hero in this serial, though it would hardly be the first entity to declare “don’t be evil” whilst slowly degenerating into a caricature of that statement. At least in the case of Nest, Google’s aims are somewhat easier to parse out than in the case of Google’s recent foray into buying up robotics companies (but I digress).

There are clearly multiple factors at work in Google’s decision to purchase Nest – and high amongst these is obviously Google’s perception that this will be a profitable decision. Beyond this obvious factor, the tech world in recent years has been regularly embroiled in various melees regarding patents, and by purchasing Nest, Google is adding to its storehouse of patents, which is profitable as well as a wise legal move. Another matter at work in Google’s purchase of Nest is that it acts as a kind of slap against Apple (Nest was founded by former Apple employees, and Nest products are [or were] sold in Apple stores). Furthermore, the purchase of Nest gives Google an easy route into the swiftly growing realm of “smart” home electronics.

There is a somewhat darkly amusing element to the way in which Google is moving into the “smart” home market. For instead of seeking to gain entrance with a product clearly stamped “Google” (such as Google Chromecast), the company is going on a somewhat subtler route: just buy another company that is already in many homes. This way Google gets the customers in addition to the company (now, that’s value!). In fairness, it is not as though Google lacks a grip on many people’s homes. It is hardly a major logical stretch to suggest that homes featuring Nest devices were already homes that had already fallen under Google’s shadow (as of the time of acquisition Nest is only for sale in Canada and the US [though the smoke detector is also available in the UK]). However, what the Nest products provide is a new source of a new kind of data for Google. Thanks to g-mail, google maps, g+ (and so forth) Google was likely already able to figure out (assuming it wanted to [it wants to {so does the NSA}]) where a person was at any given time and Nest provides more information in this same vein.

It may seem silly to think that Google would care what temperature you set your thermostat to, but when you consider that Google wants to know everything about you at all times it seems far less silly. After all, if Google does not know your preferred thermostat settings how can they know whether to target ads for sweaters or shorts at you? What advances in knowing what you’re searching for before you search for it, will Google make by knowing how chilly you are?

Granted, with Nest, Google is being careful to refrain from smacking their well-known brand name over that of a company whose name lacks the all-powerful connotations of “Google.” The press releases about the acquisition make it clear that Nest will continue operating under its own name (in much the same way that Motorola still operates under its own name).  This is a shrewd move. It’s not accidental that people talk about YouTube instead of Google Video, or Motorola instead of Google Phone, or Nest instead of Google House, or just plain Google instead of a creeping corporate-surveillance state built upon technology that would make Huxley blush (wait…where was I?). An excellent strategy to combat brand fatigue is to hide the fact that it’s all one brand. It’s hard to know for certain if Google is actually worried that people may start feeling somewhat put off if they see the brand “Google” emblazoned on every product around them, but regardless of whether or not that is clearly a motivator it seems that Google is becoming quite savvy at disguising just how many things are part of the Google empire.

And like an empire, Google is set upon continuing to grow. True, the rivals that Google confronts are mainly met on legal battlefields instead of actual battlefields, but buying Nest, out of the Apple tree in which it was resting, is a gauntlet thrown. Granted, had Apple found the money to buy Nest it would still be a story of a large and powerful company further entrenching its position against its rivals. At this point the major players in the tech field have wide reaching control, but there still are a handful of major competitors. As such the battles that are taking place are struggles for dominance between the already dominant firms – it is a war between empires in which new fiefdoms are incorporated before they can grow wily enough to pose a threat (as the purchase of Nest demonstrates).

The point of Google buying Nest is not that Nest makes good products. The point is that Nest gives Google a tighter hold on consumers (including you). When a giant company is able to freely buy up other companies this is not only a worrisome drift towards a monopoly situation, but it is also a disempowering of consumers ability to avoid certain companies. True, people can avoid Google products and services if they so desire, but as Google leaves the sucker marks from its tentacles on ever more this avoidance requires increased effort. Ultimately the purchase of Nest is a story that has become quite old when it comes to Google, namely: Google wants more, and has found that the quickest way to get more is to buy it.

So, it should come as no surprise the Google has bought Nest. After all, Google owns most of the tree it was sitting in. How much longer until Google owns the whole forest?

More on Google

How Cheaply We are Bribed

The Authoritarian Regime of Tomorrow (brought to you by Google)

Falling Under Technology’s Spell – Chromecast

In Google’s Tentacles – Robots!

Who’s Driving this Thing!?

Google…the Nation State

The All-Seeing-Eye of Google Glass

Picture Information

The image of the Corvus Corone Nest is by Martin Lindner, it was posted under a creative commons license on Wikipedia.

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

11 comments on “In Google’s Tentacles – Nest!

  1. stopthecyborgs
    January 14, 2014

    Reblogged this on Stop The Cyborgs.

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2014 by in Capitalism, Privacy, Society, Surveillance, Technology, The Internet and tagged , , , .

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